Film Review: Sideways

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I read an article in the paper recently that there was no history of exploring male friendship in cinema, citing the storm and bluster of films such as Top Gun as examples of the kind of competitiveness that infuses male relationships on the screen. Maybe, but for an example of real male friendship, look no further than Sideways.

The latest film from the director of Election and About Schmidt, Alexander Payne, is about Milo (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Hayden Church), on a week’s holiday in Californian wine country to celebrate Jack’s impending marriage. Milo, wine connoisseur currently on depression medication, is still grappling with his divorce of two years ago, and Jack, slightly has-been TV and commercial voice-over actor, is determined to get laid (as many times as possible) before he gets married. In between drinking a lot of wine, they meet Stephanie (Sandra Oh) and Maya (Virginia Madsen).

Beyond the clichés (men only talk about sports, men don’t express their feelings for each other etc) men have friendships every bit as emotionally complex as women. It’s just we don’t often see them explored on the screen in as real a way, and with such subtlety, as this. Milo and Jack are flawed, but very real people, and there are times during the film when we don’t really like them. Milo is depressed, drinks too much, and can’t move on emotionally from his wife; and Jack is like a middle-aged man with all the enthusiasm and emotional immaturity of a kid.

There are many moments here I recognised from my own life and friendships. Payne is making great films because these people and characters are so recognisable, and like life, the situations they get into and the choices they make aren’t neat and packaged and end happily every after. We recognise life as the struggle it often is, but then are reminded of our opportunities to see and appreciate the simple beauty in the everyday. With wine, you can swig it down or you can linger over every mouthful and examine every nuance—the trick is not to drink the same way all the time.

The acting in Sideways is effortless and the chemistry between these players a delight, especially between Giametti and Madsen, whose moment together out on Stephanie’s porch was so real it made me hold my breath. Like a fine wine, there are many layers of complexity to enjoy.

Four and a half pinot noirs out of five. And remember—don’t drink and dial, kids.

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